Ealing Studios have been the pillar of British cinema from their humble beginnings over 100 years, and have brought to the screen some of the most loved British films and stars of all time. With the release of Whiskey Galore at cinemas this week and on Blu-Ray from the 8th August, we take a look at the studio’s history, and pay tribute the minds behind this British institution.
In 1902, the foundations for Ealing Studios began when film producer and director, Will Barker purchased what is now known as The White Lodge, a building overlooking Ealing Green, which he extended two years later in order to build a film studio. By 1912, Ealing Studios (though not yet known by that name) was the biggest film studio in Britain.
It was in 1929 when the studios began their metamorphosis into such an integral part of British cinema history. Director Basil Dean acquired the studios as a site to produce films for his company, Associated Talking Pictures. After extensive construction, the studios opened once again in 1931 and produced a phenomenal amount of feature films for both ATP and other film companies. However, the studio’s fortune did not last, and in 1938 Dean jumped ship and left the studio with an uncertain future.
Thankfully, Michael Balcon, previous head of production at Gainsborough studios, disliked his role new role at MGM so much that he left after only three films. Within a few months he was drawn into the world of Ealing Studios, and opened the studios under its new name in the same year.
And so ‘Ealing Films’ were born. An Ealing Film to this day conjures up an image of British life that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In particular, Ealing Studios became famous for post-war ‘Ealing Comedies’, a collection of comedy films that understood the consciousness of Britain during the aftermath of war. Three of the most acclaimed of these films were released in 1949, only ten years after the grand opening of Ealing Studios, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Passport to Pimlico and Whiskey Galore. These were followed by The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955) to name only a few.
The Ealing Comedies were a breath of fresh air for a country worn down by the intensities of war. They were a reminder of community and British spirit, with many of the films focusing on subject matter that saw the community fighting against industry and . Passport to Pimlico in particular mimics the chaos of post-war Britain by telling the story of the inhabitants of Pimlico, who after a delayed bomb explosion; discover they are not settled on British soil but in fact Burgundian soil. The people of Pimlico rejoice by removing themselves from British life and British law, but ultimately find that life away from Britain is not as good as one might have hoped.
These themes are reflective of the life Ealing Studios came to live. Balcon fought hard to keep Ealing a small, British production studio, though many bigger studios saw Ealing’s potential. Balcon was first forced to make a deal with the Rank Organisation which funded Ealing through the post-war years. However, when the deal ended in 1955, Balcon collaborated instead with MGM, but only kept the productions alive for another three years.
1958 saw the end of the Ealing Studios era. Within those short twenty years, Balcon had been a part of near one hundred films, and had cemented himself as a part of British cinema forever.
From this point on, the studios were in the hands of the BBC, and were used to create programmes from Monty Python to The Singing Detective. The face of Ealing Studios had been forgotten and it seemed that the stages which had once been home to stars such as Alec Guiness and Alistair Simm were destined to be lost forever.
With the new millennium came a new beginning for Ealing Studios. Though a feature film had not been released under the label of Ealing for over 40 years, the release of The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) marked a new era for the studios and one hundred years of Ealing’s history. From this point forward a rejuvenated Ealing Studios has brought us films such as the St. Trinian’s franchise, and Jon Landis comedy Burke and Hare (2010), whilst keeping its heritage alive. The White Lodge still stands as part of the studio, and the productions still encourage the best of British talent and British humour. Though Ealing has not reached the impeccable standards of Balcon years, we will keep our fingers crossed that it triumphs to become the pioneer of British cinema that it once was.